Criminal Justice

Disabled woman who couldn't afford to take pet to vet is convicted of felony and jailed

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At 14 years old, a chow mix named Harley wasn’t in the greatest shape.

But the pet dog was still enjoying life in his old age, despite a skin condition and a large growth dangling from his neck, his owner, Tammy Brown, and her adult daughter tell the Tampa Bay Times.

Others didn’t agree, resulting in a felony conviction for Brown, who is 47 and lives on a $508-a-month disability check, and is now jailed awaiting sentencing in the animal cruelty case.

Harley was confiscated from Brown in 2011 by a Pasco County, Fla., animal services officer and euthanized. At the time, he had some pus in his eyes and some of his skin was cracked and bleeding.

Although Brown couldn’t afford to take the dog to the vet, the state argued at a hearing last year that she could have taken Harley to a local shelter or animal rescue.

At trial, a veterinarian, who admittedly had spent $10,000 on care for her own cat, according to Brown’s lawyer, testified that Harley suffered from multiple problems demonstrating severe long-term neglect, including advanced heartworms, hookworms, anemia and an infection in his ears and eyes for which he should have been treated. Willie Pura, the assistant public defender who represented Brown, says the case reflects an elitist attitude that effectively means those who are poor can’t afford to have pets, the Times reports.

A prosecutor said the state had offered Brown a plea deal and a sentence of probation, but it had been rejected because the defense wanted the charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Probation is still the sentence the state is seeking, assistant state attorney Chris Labruzzo tells the newspaper.

At a jury trial in March, Brown was convicted and remanded to jail prior to sentencing. A hearing is scheduled Friday. Pura says his client should not have been found guilty of animal cruelty because the state would have had to show, and didn’t, that she intentionally harmed Harley or repeatedly inflicted unnecessary pain on the dog. Brown has never before been charged with a felony.

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